Armagh 2-8 Mayo 1-9
Leading by five points with twenty minutes yet to be played, Armagh looked to stroll confidently to their first ever Under 21 All-Ireland title, but Mayo had other ideas.
A tense and nervy finish was met with scenes of unbridled joy, after ten agonisingly tight minutes of additional time.
A goal by big midfielder Barry Moran helped the Westerners close the gap before Star-Man Aidan Kilcoyne swung over the levelling score.
Their backs to the wall and the momentum now favouring Mayo, Armagh leaped into action with the final two points of the day to claim glory.
Peter Rafferty’s men dominated the first period, but a five minute spell before the break kept Mayo in touch.
The first half quickly became the Stephen Kernan show, with the centre half forward having a hand in every score of Armagh’s 2-3, claiming 1-2 on his own.
His goal came five minutes after the throw in when Brian Mallon was hauled down in the square, and the referee had no option but to award the spot kick.
Up stepped Kernan, who ruthlessly smashed the ball past the helpless ‘keeper, to give his side an early lead.
Damian Munnelly swung over his first of three first half points, but the Orchard County’s defence were well on top during the opening exchanges.
Kernan claimed a further two points (one free), reacting quickest to Mickey McNamee’s effort that crashed off the post, to give Armagh a four point advantage.
Two heroic blocks in the centre of the park by Gareth Swift and Brian Mallon displayed Armagh’s intensity in that area, something Mayo struggled to come to terms with.
A brilliant turnover in attack through Gregory Loughran allowed Kernan to set up an unmarked Ronan Austin, and the full forward popped over his first.
Austin was once again on target when he plucked a long range Stephen Kernan pass. The Clan na Gael man bundled his way through the full back and raised the second green flag of the day.
Armagh wouldn’t score for the rest of the half as Mayo began to get a grip around the middle of the field, and narrowed the gap to five by the short whistle.
Mayo’s momentum continued into the second period when points from Kilcoyne, Munnelly and Andy Moran were matched only by Mickey McNamee.
Peadar Toal orchestrated an inspiration score with an excellent catch and shot before Brian Mallon restored the five point gap.
Barry Moran’s scrambled goal, fired to the net after a fine save from the Armagh shot-stopper, split two Aidan Kilcoyne points to level the tie.
Stephen Kernan once again stood up to lead his side through adversary, with a Crossmaglen-orientated point.
Kernan turned the ball over in defence and drove possession forward to substitute Johnny Murtagh.
Murtagh spotted McNamee on the edge of the square and played a fine cross-field pass to the corner forward.
McNamee was fouled when trying to work a scoring opportunity and the chance fell to Kernan, who split the posts from the dead ball.
Substitute Shane O’Neill fired over the insurance score in the 72nd minute to guarantee his side the victory.
Many of the stars from that day’s performance went on to have great careers with the Orchard Coutny at Senior level.
The defence formed Armagh’s rock for years to come, with captain Ciaran McKeever, Aaron Kernan, Finnian Moriarty, Paul Duffy and Andy Mallon all leading the way.
Others such as midfield pairing Malachy Mackin and Gareth Swift as well as Brian Mallon and Stephen Kernan also went on to represent the Orchard County at Senior level.
Armagh: Paul Wilson, Gareth Smyth, Finnian Moriarty, Andy Mallon, Aaron Kernan, Ciaran McKeever, Barry McDonald, Malachy Mackin, Gareth Swift, Gregory Loughran, Stephen Kernan (1-3, 1 pen, 1f), Peadar Toal (0-1), Mickey McNamee (0-1), Ronan Austin (1-1), Brian Mallon (0-1). Subs: Paul Duffy for B. McDonald, Barry Toner for G. Loughran, Johnny Murtagh for R. Austin, Michael Moore for A. Kernan, Shane O’Neill for M. Mackin.
Mayo: Fintan Ruddy, Dermot Geraghty, Pat Nevin, Trevor Howley, Michael Carey, Liam O’Malley, Stephen. Drake, Barry Moran (1-0), Chris Barrett, Aidan Kilcoyne (0-4, 2f), Ronan. McNamara, Andy Moran (0-1), Alan Costello, Damian Munnelly (0-4 4f), Michael Conroy. Subs: P. Casey for A. Kilcoyne, P. Lydon for S. Drake, P. Doherty for M. Carey, J. Prenty for D. Munnelly, N. Lydon for M. Conroy.
The game can be viewed online thanks to An Port Mór’s YouTube channel!!